« הקודםהמשך »
enjoyed the benefit of a religious education, or been trained
in any learning which did not rather disqualify than prepare them for theological studies. Copies of the scriptures were not then multiplied as they now are : few of the fathers were capable of studying the original of the Old Testament; and some were unacquainted with that of the New. What those who perhaps had conversed with the apostles, or who lived soon after, learned from this source, more than we have in the scriptures, (if they indeed learned any thing of this kind,) must have been preserved by recollection, and communicated by tradition ; neither of which is greatly to be depended on, in respect of controverted points of theology. Criticism, especially biblical criticism, and the skill and habit of exactly weighing the true import of every expression, and the grammatical meaning of every sentence, and deducing conclusions from it, by logical rules, were comparatively little known among them : so that (except as they learned any thing from the uncertain source of tradition, or unless they were divinely inspired,) they had fewer helps, by far, for understanding the scriptures than moderns have; to whom the multiplication of books by printing, and the ease and readiness, with which any man communicates his sentiments to great numbers, and with which they may be examined, confirmed, or refuted, are to the sincere inquirer after truth inestimable advantages, to which the fathers were totally strangers. Most of them had been brought up in heathen notions, or had imbibed the principles of the philosophers; of which they retained a considerable proportion after their conversion; and
with which some of them exceedingly corrupted Christianity. They did not observe the apostle's caution: “Let no man spoil you through philoso“phy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, “ after the rudiments of the world, and not after “Christ.”. They were in general men of great earnestness and piety: some of them had much learning of various kinds, (for that time,) and brilliant talents : but few of them possessed that stock of theological knowledge, and that quick and accurate judgment on disputable points, by which the least shade of difference is promptly and exactly perceived; and by which men, through exercise and habit, “ discern good and evil,” “ as the
ear distinguishes sounds, and the mouth tastes meats.”
Indeed it seems highly probable, that the Lord, foreknowing how prone men in subsequent times would be unduly to venerate the uninspired writers of the primitive church, and to make them even the rivals of his holy oracles, and a kind of authoritative expositors of them ; was pleased to counteract this tendency, by permitting it so to come to pass, that we no sooner leave the apostolical writings to open the books of these ancient fathers, than we seem, as it were, at once to have got into another climate ; and the inferiority of their productions strikes our minds, in proportion as we enter into the spirit and views of the divine word, and relish and delight in it. Thus, in like manner, while the scripture contains the best writing almost of every kind which can be found in ancient or modern books, and nearly all of it the work of Israelites, it is remarkable, that this same nation cannot be said to have produced one good writer, besides the penmen of the scriptures. Even Josephus is not entitled to this character: but the value of his information, in some parts of his writings, makes us overlook the defects of his composition. There are indeed detached passages, even in the apocryphal books, that are well written ; some of which are evidently borrowed from scripture: but not one book is free from puerilities, tautologies, ambiguities, and obscurities, and other things inconsistent with good writing. So that the transition from the scripture, even to the least exceptionable parts of the apocrypha, is similar to that before mentioned, from the ardent (yet argumentative,) and persuasive language of St. Paul, or the affectionate simplicity of St. John, both full of Christ, of his love, his salvation and his example, to that of the fathers.
i Col. ii. 8.
The difficulty also of distinguishing the genuine writings of the fathers from the works falsely ascribed to them, and from the interpolations which have been made in them, is allowed even by the most zealous assertors of their claim to our almost implicit credence. If then we would know what primitive Christianity was, we must go to earlier times than even those of the most ancient fathers of the Christian church; even to the times of the apostles, and the writings contained in the New Testament.-I would, however, in no wise be understood to allow, that the aggregate testimony of the ancient fathers of the Christian church
is against our tenets; but disclaiming all human authority, I decline attempting any evidence from the fathers on the other side of the question. Some have done it ; and in their hands I leave it.
The Liturgy, Articles, and Homilies of the Church
When the reformers had made the concession above stated, by which the subsequent controversies were involved in perplexities and intricacies that by no means belonged to them while the appeal was exclusively to the word of God; and which invalidated, or threw a doubt and hesitation on many of their deductions, and casta shade upon
the honour of their triumphs; it might have been expected that more evident traces of its effects would have been visible in their authoritative books. And it is truly wonderful that our reformers especially, who seemed in some respects more compliant than those of other countries, have preserved the Articles and liturgy, in general, so free from bias derived from that source as we actually find them. Indeed in many things, which hasty and superficial controvertists have charged with deviation from the sacred oracles to human traditions, a careful investigation of each word and clause, and of the connexion in which it stands, with the guards put around it, will convince the impartial inquirer, that the charge is unfounded; and will lead him
Milner's Ecclesiastical History.
to admire the depth of 'acquaintance with the holy scriptures discernible in these venerable writings. In respect however of baptism, a few exceptions to the general rule occur ; and the language customary in the church for many ages seems to have induced the compilers to use expressions not strictly scriptural. Yet I trust it will appear that the words employed on this subject, taken together, and compared with each other, by no means imply that baptism and regeneration are synonymous; or that baptism, when rightly administered, is always accompanied with regeneration.
The Case of Infants.
It is assumed that the parents and sponsors, who, as members of the church, bring infants to baptism, are themselves true Christians; and that they really desire and pray, both previously and at the time when baptism is administered, that the inward and spiritual grace of that sacrament may accompany or follow the outward and visible sign, thus imitating those who brought their young children to “ Christ, that he should lay his hands “on them, and pray for them.”] It is also assumed that, when baptism is publicly administered, the congregation likewise unite in fervent prayer for the same blessing along with the officiating minister; and that God does indeed hear and answer these prayers and on these grounds all parties unite in thanking God for so doing. ?
i Matt. xix. 13.
Collect immediately preceding Baptism.